“I assumed it was a recirculating, full-recovery system.” She was embarrassed and offended.
“No system is one-hundred-percent full-recovery. You lose a little every time you use the lav.”
“I understand,” Cidra said stiffly. “I will be more careful next time.” She gave up trying to meditate and crawled under the covers.
On the bottom bunk Severance folded his arms behind his head and stared thoughtfully up at the bunk above. Chewing out a Harmonic always made a man feel guilty. He’d felt the same way whenever he’d lost his temper with Jeude.
Damn it to a renegade’s hell, though , Cidra was not a real Harmonic. There would undoubtedly be ample opportunity to remind himself of that fact during the next two weeks. He allowed himself to dwell for a lingering moment on the sight of her nude body outlined in the dim console lighting as she padded quickly across the room to don her robe.
Small, sleek, with an unmistakably feminine grace. Her br**sts were delicately curved, just the way he had imagined they would be earlier when he’d unbound her braids. Nicely rounded bu**ocks too. Lush and tantalizing. She wasn’t a beauty, but she was intriguing on too many levels for his peace of mind. And she was not a Harmonic, regardless of what she thought or wished to be.
For some reason it was becoming important that he make her admit that. Severance realized he wanted Cidra to acknowledge fully that she was a real Wolf, just as he was.
It was a long while before he went to sleep.
The smell of hot coffade and a steaming prespac breakfast brought Severance awake eight hours later. He opened his eyes slowly, letting himself luxuriate in the fragrance. The little fake Saint was obviously up and about. He stretched slowly and climbed out of the bunk. Fred had vacated the premises earlier. He was draped over the back of the console seat, watching
Cidra slip another prespac into the ship’s heater. Severance yawned loudly, and Cidra whirled around, smiling. The smile slipped, and her eyes went momentarily quite wide as she absorbed the fact that he was naked. After a startled instant she turned hurriedly back to the heater.
“Good morning, Severance. Are you hungry? I hope you don’t mind me digging out the prespacs. I was just thinking, this could be one of my shipboard duties, couldn’t it? Getting the meals ready?”
The deliberate chattiness of her voice amused him. He stepped into the lav, leaving the panel open. “I’ve got news for you. Shoving a food prespac into a heater and pulling it back out again doesn’t exactly constitute a full-time job. Now, if we had a grill on board and some fresh food, I might be willing to negotiate.”
“Still,” she insisted, “it is a task, however small. And we have to agree on something useful for me to do.”
He leaned out of the lav, reaching into a storage bin for the trouser portion of his gray shipsuit. “Afraid of getting bored?”
“No. But I definitely want to work my passage, Severance.”
He didn’t respond to that—didn’t dare respond. With a grim effort, he forced the panel shut behind him. He had spent too much of the night envisioning exactly how she could make herself useful on board, and Severance knew Cidra would be repelled by the graphic pictures he had formed of her. When he stepped out of the lav a short time later wearing only worn, close-fitting trousers, he said simply, “We’ll think of something.”
“You keep saying that, but what will we think of?” She set the steaming prespacs on the small serving table and handed him a mug of coffade.
“So earnest and industrious,” he muttered as he sat down. The coffade tasted better than usual for some reason. Maybe it was because he hadn’t had to make it himself. “Give me some time, all right? I haven’t had an opportunity to really contemplate the situation. Everything’s happened a little fast since I met you on Lovelady.”
She smiled, but he noticed she was having to make an effort to keep from staring at his bare chest. He blinked lazily, set down the mug with a small sigh of resignation, and reached into a bin for a loose, comfortable, wide-sleeved shirt he sometimes wore on board. He shrugged into it but didn’t bother to fasten the front seal. Cidra looked relieved.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I’m not a prude, you understand. I have had courses in human anatomy. But Harmonics are generally quite formal in their attire. I’m accustomed to it.”
“Yeah, I’m getting that impression. I warned you about the lack of privacy on board.”
“Yes.” She concentrated on her food. “You did.”
“Things on Renaissance are even more, uh, informal.”
“I’m prepared for that.”
Severance studied her for a moment, taking in the determined carriage of her head. She had her hair back up in the strict coronet, and he wondered how long it had taken her to do it. Her surplice was red, embroidered at hem and cuffs and throat with a delicate purple floss. She was a note of color and restrained elegance against the general gray backdrop of the ship. Quite suddenly he was intensely curious about her.
“What’s going to happen if and when you find your magic artifact, Cidra?”
She frowned. “It’s not magic. When I find it, I’m sure I will also find a perfectly good scientific explanation for how it works.”
He held up a hand. “Sorry. No magic, then. Your scientifically explainable artifact. What will you do with it?”
“Go back to Clementia, naturally.”
“Someone waiting there?”
She glanced up, green eyes wary and quizzical. “My parents. My teachers. My friends.”
“A lover?” He almost surprised himself with the question almost but not quite. The hard edge of his words told him more than he wanted to know about his own reasons for pushing in this particular direction. The color that surged into Cidra’s cheeks fascinated him.
“That’s a very personal question, Severance.”
“I know. I’m rude on occasion.” He finished his meal and tossed the empty prespac into the disposal unit. He was disgusted with himself.
Cidra smiled tentatively. “I suppose it’s just another example of a Wolf’s natural interest in sex.”
Severance regarded her laconically as he got to his feet and walked over to the control console. “You’re a Wolf, lady, whether you like it or not. Don’t you have any interest in the subject?”
She quickly cleaned up the remains of the breakfast prespacs, avoiding his half accusing stare. “You must understand that for me a relationship with a man will be much different than it would be between two Wolves.”